QUESTIONS JESUS ASKED: Why do you worry? - Matthew 6:24-34
By Ted Schroder,
January 1, 2017
Bruce Barton (1886-1967) was the successful head of a New York advertising agency who created the character of Betty Crocker. He is also credited with naming General Motors and General Electric. His most famous book was, The Man Nobody Knows (1925). In this book, Barton envisions Jesus as if he were alive as a man's man in the present day of the 1920s while criticizing the overly meek Jesus that people were used to during that time. In his chapter on the method of Jesus in communication he wrote: "Jesus seldom argued. The record of his questions is a fruitful study for all of us, who, in our everyday affairs must deal with other minds" (p.112). Over the next three months I am going to take some of the questions Jesus asked, and apply them to our lives.
On this first day of the New Year, as we anticipate 2017 it is appropriate to take as our first question, "Why do you worry?" (Matthew 6:28) Worry is counter-productive. Worrying does not lengthen your life. In fact worry may shorten your life. It will certainly take the joy out of life.
Soren Kierkegaard in his six expositions of this passage in the Sermon on the Mount defined anxiety as "the next day". Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." He urges us to get rid of the "next day." All earthly anxiety is about the next day. We must get free of the next day -- let it look after itself. If you free yourself from worrying about whatever troubles the next day holds and address each day's troubles as they come calmly and in the spirit of thanksgiving, you will become free of the troubles that belong to the next day. He uses the illustration of rowers in a boat. They have their back turned to the direction of travel. The more deeply we immerse ourselves in today, and the more decisively we turn our backs on the next day, we will reach the point at which we don't see it at all. We are to give ourselves to the task of today. Live in the present moment.
I know that this teaching goes against everything that we have been told is necessary in order to succeed. We have been urged to plan for the future, to set goals and priorities, to make one year, and five year plans. I have done it all my life. I am constantly preparing ahead and living in the future. While this had been good for my work it has not always been good for my soul. It has been hard for me to become, what therapist Edwin Friedman described as a "non-anxious presence."
So much anxiety is caused by apprehension about the future and what it may hold for us or for those we love. We are creatures who have a consciousness about time and we anticipate unbearable catastrophes we are unable to prevent. Our attitude to the future determines whether we worry or not. Fear is to anticipate the possibility of something bad in the future. Hope is to expect the possibility of something good. The Gospel of Jesus brings us hope. We are to seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness and all these thing about which we worry will be given to us as well. When we choose to put that first we will find that the kingdom of God is "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).
Jesus uses the illustrations of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field to teach us not to worry. There is no yesterday for the bird and no tomorrow, he lives only in the day, just as the lily blossoms for only a day. The bird has no anxiety about the next day. Like the bird, get rid of the next day and cease to be the cause of your own anxieties. The lily and the bird serve only one master and they serve him with their entire being. They are content with their lot and are not comparing themselves with others and desiring to be different from how God has provided for them. They are content with being created by God and dependent upon him for their nourishment and their appearance. We are much more valuable than they because we are made in the image of God, we are spirit and not just animal, and are capable of worship and service.
When we look at the birds of the air and lilies of the field, and all of nature we are distracted into forgetting our anxiety. We focus on something other than our anxieties. Rather than staying at home and brooding over our worries we need to get out and enjoy the world God has given us as divine distractions. The beauty of this world and the needs of other people are meant to give the anxious something else to think about. Divine distractions have the power to dispel the fog of care. Mini-vacations can enable us to view the world from a different perspective. We serve a great Creator who gives us all things richly to enjoy.
We have the ability to choose whom we should serve. We can choose, like the birds and the lilies, to serve God who created us and provided for us. Our righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit depends upon whether serve God or Money. Our choice determines whether we worry or not. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money"Matthew 6:24).
If you love Money and are devoted to it, "The light of the spirit is extinguished, a soporific mist clouds the vision, nothing is worth taking an interest in, and yet such people don't want to die but to go on living as what they are...The light of the spirit is extinguished, and such disconsolate persons become crazily busy about all manner of things as long as nothing reminds them of God. They slave away from morning till night, making money, putting it aside, keeping things moving, and if you talk to them you will hear them constantly saying that this is the serious business of life. Oh, frightful seriousness, it would almost be better to lose one's mind." S. Kierkegaard, Spiritual Writings, translated by George Pattison, p.176)
"So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." If you were to read the newspapers and magazines or view the commercials you would think that life consists of food, clothing, housing, fashion, music and art -- the aesthetic life. "Pagans run after all these things." That is what so many people love and are devoted to. Not that these things are wrong in their proper place. But when they become the object of highest value, when they are worshipped, when they become what we seek first in life, we open ourselves to anxiety. "Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"
The lilies and the birds have only one master. They serve the Lord without a thought for anything but him. We are to learn from them. We not only serve the Lord, we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength and surrender ourselves to him. When we love God and seek to serve him first above all others, we are freed from anxiety. Because we believe in God's provision for us we are always joyful and always thankful. We learn this from Jesus, who surrendered everything - the glory he had before the foundations of the world were laid - and renounced everything even a place on which to lay his head. He took upon himself the sin of the world, suffered the guilt of the human race and submitted himself to everything in life and in death.
Jesus asks us every day, "Why do you worry?" How would you answer that question? Will you surrender your life to God and live in the present moment? Will you live as though all depended upon God's provision for you, for if he takes care of all of nature will he not much more take care of you? Are you not much more valuable than they? Jesus came and suffered and died for you on the Cross so that you might experience his kingdom. That makes you infinitely valuable.
The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation in Florida
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